Fort Worth

Marjorie Crenshaw, major Fort Worth music influencer and jazz advocate, dies at 91

Fort Worths Jazz Legacy

Marjorie Crenshaw, Fort Worth jazz historian, is recorded by Stewart Williams, president of the union that represents Fort Worth and Dallas musicians, about the history of jazz in North Texas
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Marjorie Crenshaw, Fort Worth jazz historian, is recorded by Stewart Williams, president of the union that represents Fort Worth and Dallas musicians, about the history of jazz in North Texas

One of the most respected repositories of jazz history in this area has died.

Marjorie Juanita Hollins Crenshaw, 91, died March 6.

Mrs. Crenshaw was born on May 31, 1927, in Marshall, to the late Perry and Etta Hollins. Her family moved to Fort Worth when she was 2.

Mrs. Crenshaw was a graduate of I.M. Terrell High School and attended Wiley College in Marshall and Fisk University in Nashville, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in music. She returned to the area and earned her master’s degree in music from the University of North Texas in Denton.

Mrs. Crenshaw got a job with the Fort Worth school district, where she taught throngs of elementary school children for 32 years, introducing them to her first love, jazz, but also to all genres of music.

Her son, Perry N. Crenshaw, remembered his mother for being his first teacher, his first music teacher, his first civil rights leader and his first economist.

Mrs. Crenshaw was brought up in an environment with strong historical linkages, her son explained. Her mentors passed the history they witnessed on to her and impressed upon her that she should do the same.

“She felt an obligation to be a mentor to younger people,” Perry Crenshaw said. “It was all about giving back. Even at 91 she was conscious about giving back. She did that all of my life. She would not let you forget your history.”

Mrs. Crenshaw stressed education and Perry Crenshaw said he learned lessons in elementary education long before he ever stepped into a school room. Mrs. Crenshaw stressed frugality and Perry Crenshaw said he learned lessons about saving and delayed gratification long before he ever had any money to speak of.

“I talked them into buying me a trumpet and then realized after that that she expected me to practice every day,” Perry Crenshaw said. “So after school, before I went to be with my friends, there was homework and then there was practice.”

His mother taught him discipline, Perry Crenshaw said.

It was by example.

“She didn’t drink or smoke but she hung out in clubs all of her life,” Perry Crenshaw said. “I never heard my mother curse once in my life. My mother was the person who made sure I had a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

She was always teaching responsibility, honesty and integrity, he said. She also made it very clear that she loved her children, regardless of their faults, their flaws and their weaknesses, Perry Crenshaw said.

“She taught music and influenced many students who went on to become musicians and perpetuate the art form,” said Thomas Kellum, an archivist who helped compile the Jazz History Project at the Fort Worth Public Library. “She was a pianist and a professional musician who gave concerts all of her life.”

Mrs. Crenshaw was also a listener who met and attended the concerts of such greats as Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman, Wynton Marsalis, Charles Moffit, and many others.

“She loved jazz and devoted her life to music,” said Marvinell Johnson, membership chairwoman of the Fort Worth Jazz Society, where Mrs. Crenshaw was a charter member and former president.

Johnson said she first met Crenshaw when the jazz society was founded in 1984. Mrs. Crenshaw’s passion was helping students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to study music at the college level, get in and stay in school, Johnson said.

“She was go-getter,” Johnson said. “She really worked hard to get these students to stay in jazz. She worked with the library, especially. She was just a great person.”

She was a board member of the Fort Worth Local 72 and Dallas Local 147 Musicians Union, and a member of the Fort Worth Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the Retired Teachers Association, Fort Worth Opera Guild, The Church On The Move Ministries and St. Andrews United Methodist Church.

According to a short biography on Crenshaw’s life journey, she began to study piano and pipe organ as a child. Everyone in her family was required to learn how to play a musical instrument, the biographical sketch said.

Mrs. Crenshaw began evangelizing for the jazz art form after retiring from teaching when she joined forces with Imagination Celebration, according to the biography.

“Children must be introduced to music and the arts at a very young age, even as babies, before their ideas are formed in high school,” Mrs. Crenshaw said in the biography. “Those who get started early enough lack inhibitions about performing that gives them the right start for learning in the arts and for improvising in jazz.”

Everyone called her Mrs. Crenshaw, said Stewart Williams, president of the union representing Fort Worth and Dallas musicians.

“She was there for people and promoted them and supported them,” Williams said. “That was the source of the love that people had for her. She was dear to us.”

Mrs. Crenshaw was preceded in death by her parents, Perry and Etta Hollins; husband, Willie N. Crenshaw; and daughter, Lisa J. Crenshaw.

She is survived by her son, her granddaughters, great grandsons, family members and friends.

Services for Mrs. Crenshaw will be at 4 p.m. Saturday at Saint Andrews United Methodist Church, 522 Missouri Ave.

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